How To Cut Dog Nails

Cutting your dog's nails can become quite the tedious task, especially if you or your dog is fearful of it. However, it's an essential part of grooming. When a dog's nails grow too long, walking can become quite painful for them, so keeping them nice and trim is vital for their overall general health.

If your dog is outdoors a lot or continually walking on hard/concrete surfaces, their nails may become naturally filed, bonus! If not, you'll want to regularly trim your dog's nails at home or by bringing them to a groomer/vet.

Rocky's vet suggests that the front paws get clipped every two weeks, and the back every three. This is the routine we follow, and it works quite well. Some owners stick to once every two weeks, and others once a month. Keep in mind that every dog is different, and nails may lengthen at different rates, so feel it out and see what works best for your dog.

Why It's Important

Letting your dog's nails grow too long can result in chipping, tearing, splitting, or even breaking, which is incredibly painful for them. If the pain continuously persists, they may start to walk or move differently. This can lead to joint pain, posture issues, and even arthritis. In an unusual case, the nails may curl over and dig into their paw pads. Don't let this happen!

How To Tell When It's Time For A Trim

If you hear your dog tap dancing as they walk, it's time for a cut! A general indicator is the clicking noise their nails will make on the floor as they move around. Another method would be to place your dog's paw flat on the floor; their nails should not come into contact with the surface.

If you feel as though your dog may have overgrown nails, be sure to check out our article How To Trim Overgrown Dog Nails.

Helpful Tools To Use

Many types of clippers can be purchased online or in-person at your local pet store. A good quality pair of clippers is preferred, but Dremels have also become quite popular. Make sure you purchase a reputable brand with a sharp blade. The last thing you want to do is buy a cheap/dull pair that will end up harming your pet. I personally use the Safari professional nail trimmers pictured below, they have served us well for quite some time now.

I would also recommend having a styptic powder on hand should you accidentally cut the quick. This powder should be immediately applied to the quick should bleeding occur.

If you wish to learn more about dog clippers, check out our article Dog Nail Clippers - All You Need To Know.

The Tools We Recommend:

Safari Professional Stainless Steel Nail Trimmer for Dogs:

Dremel Nail Grooming Kit:

Remedy and Recovery Professional Groomer's Styptic Powder for Pets:

Easing Into It

It's best to get your dog used to paw handling. By doing so, they won't be frightful when it comes time for a nail trim. Regularly touch their paws, allowing them to get used to the feeling. If they are comfortable with it, take it one step further and try lightly massaging or manipulating their paws. The goal is to get them used to this sensation. Always reward them with a treat when they react well. They will, of course, take better to this if you start when they are a puppy, but it works well with senior dogs too; it may just take some extra time and TLC. 

Tips For Getting Started

Some dogs are easy going and take well to nail clipping; others have anxiety and may freak out/bite. You know your dog best and can access their needs for each situation. I've included a helpful video for anxious dogs below.

It's best to establish a safe space. Try to cut their nails in the same location each time so they can get used to their surroundings. Ensure that there is a good amount of light present so you can see their nails/quick effortlessly. Try to stay at least 2 mm away from the quick.

Have your trimmers of choice, styptic powder, a towel/cloth, and treats readily available.

How To Cut Dog Nails

Please note that the below instructions are geared towards black nails. However, the steps for white nails are the exact same, only with white nails, you have the luxury of being able to see the quick. So when cutting their nails, you will simply want to stay away from that zone. Included below are descriptive videos for easy reference.

  1. Hold up your dog's paw gently, keeping it level and close to their body. Pulling their paw forward to help the process for you may result in them losing balance or pulling away. Make sure they are sturdy and comfortable. 
  2. Gently spread the digits on their paws one by one as you are clipping. You can achieve this by placing your thumb or index finger on each pad and gently pressing up to extend their nail. This will help space out their "dog toes" and ensure you don't accidentally snip something you shouldn't. Make sure your dog's hair is out of the way.

  3. Cut the nail on a 45° angle. Don't feed the nail entirely through the clippers; go slowly, taking off small amounts with each clip. With each small cut, look at the bottom of the nail closely. You'll want to see a chalky white ring around the edges and with a small black dot in the center. This means you are close to the quick but haven't clipped it yet. If you don't see any white, clip a tiny bit more until you do. Don't forget to cut their dewclaws!

  4. Give constant praise with each clipped nail. You can never reward good behaviour enough, so keep treats on hand and give them plenty. You don't want them to associate nail clipping as a bad thing.

What To Do If You Cut Too Far

If you accidentally clip their quick, don't panic, it happens. Your dog will forgive you, just make sure you forgive yourself and don't let it discourage you from future trimmings. That's why it's always beneficial to have styptic powder and treats on hand.

How to Apply The Styptic Powder

  • Gently apply the powder to the tip of the bleeding nail and lightly apply pressure.

  • After holding it down for a few seconds, carefully rub the powder from side to side, ensuring full coverage.

  • Leave the powder on. The bleeding should have subsided, and you can continue on to the rest of the nails. The powder will absorb and then crumble off as your dog moves around.

Suggested Video Tutorials

I found each of the below videos to be very helpful in their own unique way. 

This first video showcases the use of scissor-style clippers, a grinding Dremel, and styptic powder:

Another great video is Dr. Becker's take on trimming nails. Watch below for some great tips and tricks:

And lastly, the below video showcases trimming the nails of an anxious dog. The tool used in this video is the Safari nail trimmer, Rocky's trimmer of choice:

If You Can't Successfully Clip Your Dogs Nails

If your dog is aggressive or has severe anxiety surrounding trimming their nails, definitely take them to a professional, whether it be a groomer or your local vet. Veterinarians can prescribe calming medication to help with severe anxiety.

Just remember...You've got this! 

If you have any helpful tips or tricks of your own, please feel free to share in the comments section below. Hope this article helped!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Upplady - June 8, 2020

Since nail trimming can be an anxiety-laden experience for many dogs, start handling your puppy s feet and trimming their nails when they re young, so they become accustomed to the process. Some dogs will sit in your lap or on a table while you clip their nails, while others may need some form of restraint.

    Rocky's Journal - July 29, 2020

    That’s a great tip, thank you for sharing!

    Brendon Quarnstrom - October 26, 2020

    The best dog nailers will be top picks for several reasons. First of all, the best dog nailers will be ones that feature a variety of functions. For example, you may need a dog nail grinder to remove pet stains or even a grinder that can be used to make dog nails grow longer.

    Tasia Hespen - December 19, 2020

    When selecting the best dog nail-cleaning tool for your pooch, you’ll find plenty of options out there. Make sure that you take the time to shop around and read some customer reviews before you choose, because you’ll end up saving money on your investment. over time.

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